Teens who took a supplemental drivers' ed program — including tours of emergency rooms, ICUs and a morgue — showed more awareness of the consequences of risky driving and of how they can avoid dangers. But data from a two-month follow-up to the program was inconclusive as to whether the program made a difference in the youths' behavior behind the wheel.

Teens who took a supplemental drivers' education program — including tours of emergency rooms, intensive care units and a morgue — showed greater awareness of the consequences of risky driving and of how they can avoid dangers, a Baylor University study found. But data from a two-month follow-up to the program was inconclusive as to whether the program made a difference in the youths' behavior behind the wheel, said lead author Beth A. Lanning.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of accidental deaths for teens in the United States, accounting for one in three, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, published in the journal Transportation Research, focused on the Texas Reality Education for Drivers (RED) program. Participants included 21 youths who were referred by a court or school administrator for disciplinary action; referred by community groups; or enrolled by a parent.

Traditional driver education programs

Traditional driver education programs — designed to help youths drive responsibly and defensively — are evolving in content and scope. In addition, supplemental risk reduction programs that include a realistic experience, such as RED, are being offered by private companies, insurers, government agencies and hospitals across the country, Lanning said.

In a 17-item questionnaire youths completed at the beginning of the RED program, their most frequently reported risky behaviors from the previous 30 days were texting and talking on the phone, driving on freeways and driving between midnight and 6 a.m. During that time, the 21 participants drove on freeways or interstates six to nine times, and most (90%) talked on the phone or texted (81%) six to nine times.

Risk levels of several Behaviours

Before the program began, participants completed questionnaires to rate risk levels of several behaviors that fell into one of four behaviors: speeding; texting and using a cell phone; riding in a vehicle with an intoxicated driver; and drinking and driving. They also were asked to determine which of 21 driving behaviors should be classified as risky and which should be considered low risk..

Researchers noted that the two-month follow-up survey was limited, with six participants completing it. Four had driven during that period, all of whom all reported talking on the phone and texting while driving; two reported driving at least 20 miles over the speed limit. Because all participants took the RED program due to risky driving, future research should include a control/comparison group, Lanning said.

Baylor researchers also focused on a family-centered approach to teen driving and found that parental monitoring increased after their children's participation in RED. The parents were court-directed to enroll and monitor their children because of the adolescents' poor driving.

"Young driver crashes are due to multiple factors requiring a complex solution," Lanning said. "A change in risk perception and awareness does not always translate to a change in behavior. Helping teens drive safely requires a team: educators, peers and parents."